Published on February 16th, 2016 | by M. Morford19
M. Morford on the methanol plant scoping session
It was Tacoma’s off-with-their-heads moment.
For a project the size and scale of the proposed methanol plant – the largest on the planet – layers and layers of permits, requirements and authorizations must be approved and hearings, public and confidential, must be held.
As of February 15, 2016, there have been two public ‘Scoping Sessions’ – intended to gauge community response to the project (a third is scheduled for February 24). These public meetings are required by law and are usually routine and barely noticed by the public.
Not this time.
The first meeting at Tacoma’s Convention hall was in a room with a capacity of 400; well over a thousand citizens showed up. The second meeting was in a room with a capacity of 1,400. It was nearly full. But it was not the size of the crowd that was so stunning – it was the mood. The piercing sense of deception and betrayal was tangible. Frustration, rage, and disbelief were nearly constant.
The pained questions never stopped; How could they make these decisions? Who was really behind this deal? What kind of collusion, corruption, malfeasance and outright deception was at work here? Where was my representative leadership? Who was making these decisions, and on what grounds and in whose name? Who was selling Tacoma’s soul, identity, future, and yes, destiny at such a pitiful, pathetic price?
The questions to ask regarding any major issue are ‘who profits?’ and ‘who pays?’ And the answer is almost always the same. The answer is almost always what it should never be in a decent, civil, and fair community: the rich and powerful profit and the poor and powerless pay. The poor pay with their livelihoods, their health, and sometimes their children.
Money changes hands, deals are signed in back rooms, staggering profits are made, and, a few years later, the company leaves and the poor live in, breathe in – or in the case of Flint, Michigan, drink in – the toxic legacy of decisions made in the name of money.
In an era when we barely trust our own government, with its (mostly) free and fair elections, balance of powers, and legislative process, does it make sense that we would bet our community’s health, reputation, and future in the hands of a government completely unaccountable to its own citizens, let alone US citizens?
I’ve lived in China. I’ve seen their inadequate and dangerous building standards, their disregard for work safety, and their response to commonly accepted environmental practices. Chinese construction accidents (usually with multiple fatalities and lingering environmental contamination) are the stuff of legend . I’ve seen (and worked in) their schools that collapse and kill children by the hundreds.
UWT is hosting a discussion on the science and technology of the methanol plant in Tacoma. I can’t help feeling that this is a distraction. Citizens are not primarily irate because of the science of the project, but because most people feel sucker-punched by the political process.
We don’t want to see another reminder of local cronyism and the slimy backroom deals that made Tacoma a poster child for small town corruption and graft. It’s not about the science – it’s about the violation of trust, disregard for an open, accountable, political process, and perhaps most of all, it’s a failure of vision of who and what Tacoma is becoming.
Perhaps the UW Tacoma political science department should host a series of sessions on how to avoid public relations disasters like the one our city leaders and Port commissioners find themselves in. Tacoma is becoming a place more and more of us are appreciating. Most of us are no longer willing to have our location, our resources, and our citizens sold to the lowest bidder.
Tacoma is home, it is not for sale.
Abraham Lincoln spoke of government of the people, by the people and for the people. This political process to allow the methanol plant is a violation of each one of these phrases. It takes a lot to stir people of Tacoma to call for the resignation or dismissal of public officials, (accompanied by crowds cheering) but we saw it February 10, 2016. Citizens of Tacoma have a long history of passivity and complacency, but those days, like the days of toxic, extractive industries are long gone.
All I can say is, three cheers for the new Tacoma!
I love living in a town I can be proud of. May we never see the weak, polluted T-Town grovelling for dangerous and dehumanizing jobs ever again.